Assessment and feedback: Getting started 4. Giving feedback

1. Types of

2. Marking

3. Fair

4. Giving

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This page outlines the University’s principles of feedback, gives guidance on how to make sure feedback is useful to students, and outlines some different ways to give feedback.

The University's Principles of Feedback

The University’s Principles of Feedback outline the standards expected of feedback for enhancing student learning:

  1. Student engagement with feedback is promoted. A formative approach and ongoing dialogue with students will motivate them to engage with feedback.
  2. Feedback is for learning. Students will be able to apply and reflect on feedback to improve their current and future performance.
  3. Feedback is clearly communicated to students. Students will know what kind(s) of feedback they will receive and when it will be available to them.
  4. Feedback is timely. Students will receive regular feedback throughout modules, timed to help with final assessments.
  5. Feedback is consistently delivered. Feedback will be accessible and consistent, and relate to assessment criteria and learning outcomes.
  6. Feedback quality is maintained. Staff will receive support with issues such as curriculum design to ensure feedback is prioritised and effective.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to providing effective feedback. The methods you use will depend upon the needs of the subject and the teaching styles and learning modes used across a programme.


What you can do

  • Make sure that your students are also familiar with the principles of feedback from the beginning of their studies. This will help them to understand what they can expect from feedback at the University.
  • Find ways to consistently review your feedback processes, and engage students in dialogue about what types of feedback are useful for them, and how your feedback could be improved.


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How can you make sure that feedback is useful?

Assessment drives and is for learning. This doesn’t happen without good quality, useful and timely feedback.

Feedback helps students to:

  • Understand the marks they have been given.
  • Know where/what to improve for future assessments.
  • Understand their progress against learning outcomes.
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses.
  • Improve their understanding of subject material and build upon their learning.
  • Develop assessment literacy skills.
  • Make choices regarding study pathways.
  • Become self-reflective practitioners and lifelong learners.

Feedback is always formative, even when given on summative assessments.

What you can do

  • Review an example of your feedback using the bullet points above. Does your feedback fulfil these points?
  • Ask your students if the feedback they are given aligns with the bullet points above.


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What makes feedback helpful for students?

The following table describes the characteristics of helpful feedback, and offers some specific ideas for making your feedback better quality.

Feedback characteristic Practical ideas
Personal, relevant and specific
  • Students should feel like you are speaking to them as an individual, and that you are specifically commenting on their piece of work.
  • Focus on the elements that are important for future assignments.
  • Be specific - try to avoid using statements like ‘good’, or ‘needs improving’, or ‘this was not correct’, or ticks/crosses!
Actionable (all feedback should feed-forward)
  • Provide specific actions for future assignments.
  • This is where a knowledge of the programme as a whole is useful.
Constructive, encouraging and motivating
  • Be constructive, and design your feedback to aid a student to improve.
  • Adopt an encouraging tone, and offer realistic suggestions for improvement, whilst not shying away from criticism.
  • This is the case even if a student has done well in an assignment - a student should still know why they did well, and what they should take forward to future assignments.
Encourages various forms of dialogue
  • What opportunities do students have to discuss their feedback with their academic tutors?
Clearly linked to assessment criteria
  • This can easily be done by providing a highlighted marking matrix/rubric for each student to show how they performed against the criteria.
  • Time feedback so as to be useful for future assessments.
  • There is the expectation that students should receive personal feedback within three weeks of the deadline for an assessment.


Below are three fictional examples of feedback given to a student. 

“You have made a poor effort here. No critical analysis demonstrated. Incorrect use of referencing. You must try harder next time.”

  • The language in the first sentence, aimed at the student themselves, is demotivating. It is unlikely that you know how much effort a student put into the work - this may be their best effort. You could reframe this comment to be about the work, not the person, and also to be more motivating. What about: "Overall I have marked this essay in the 'poor' category. You have used a wide range of sources, which is good academic practice, but use the specific feedback that follows to improve your critical analysis skills"
  • There is no example given here relating to poor critical analysis. You could highlight a piece of text and provide a specific example of where critical analysis was lacking, and what you expect to see if critical analysis is employed.
  • What exactly is wrong with the referencing? Is it in the wrong format/style? Or is there a deeper problem with academic practice and not citing sources etc? Could you provide a specific example? Could you signpost the student to resources to help them to use the correct referencing technique?
  • ‘Try harder next time’ - this is another demotivating comment. There is no specific guidance on how the student could meet your expectations next time. Could you give three specific actionable bits of feedback that the student could implement in their next assignment?

“Brilliant job, well done! Keep it up for your next assignment.”

  • This comment could be seen as motivating as it praises the work the student has done. However, it is not specific. What exactly has the student done well? What specifically should the student do to achieve the same success in the next assignment? Also, it would be very rare that there would be absolutely nothing a student could improve in their work - is there anything that you can identify that would help them in future assignments, even if that is beyond the degree - e.g. in employment or further study?

“Overall this was a good essay. You have used a wide range of sources, both primary and secondary, and you structured your essay well, with an introduction, an attempt to analyse the literature, an argument, and a conclusion. However there are three specific things you can do to improve your essay writing:

  1. Make sure you leave enough time to properly format your references (see my specific highlights in the text which show where referencing has been used incorrectly). Below is a link to the library’s guide on the referencing style we use in this department. Take some time to familiarise yourself with this before completing your next essay.
  2. You need to use more critical analysis when examining and talking about the sources you have used. Are they all reliable? Which ones are primary and which ones are secondary? When were they written? Which ones do you trust and why? Which ones don’t you trust and why? Examining your sources in this way will then help you build your argument.
  3. When you are making an argument, you should justify this argument. For example, you say ‘this is because women in the 19th century were expected to stay within the confines of the home’ - what led you to that conclusion? How did this then lead to the situation you outlined?”
  • Three is a good number of specific actions to be taken - it is not too overwhelming. If you have a long list of things a student needs to improve upon, you could include the whole list, but prioritise and highlight the top three actions to take forward, and make them specific to the next assignment.
  • By putting the comment about references first, a student might construe that this is the most important aspect of the feedback. In reality, correct referencing is important, but the marks in the essay are weighted more for the critical analysis component. Perhaps putting the two points related to critical analysis first will help the student to prioritise the things they need to improve.
  • It is good to signpost to resources and support that students can access to help them take action on feedback
  • The questions in action 2 act as 'take-aways' for the student that they can use as prompts when tackling the next assignment.
  • Using specific examples helps to show a student exactly where and how they could improve.

Below are some different ways of delivering feedback, and allowing students to engage with and act upon that feedback:

How it works
Technology Some of the tools provided by the University help you to provide useful feedback.
  • Turnitin provides tools that enable you to quickly and easily re - purpose commonly used comments (Quickmarks)
  • Kaltura & Turnitin enables audio and video feedback to be given to students.
  • Blackboard (MOLE) can be used to create self-marked tests/quizzes with automated feedback
Peer assessment Provide an opportunity for students to assess each others work. Students are often willing to share feedback with each other, allowing different concepts and ways of working to be explored. This can easily be facilitated through the Turnitin PeerMark facility.
Cohort feedback You could provide some cohort generic feedback (in addition to individual feedback) to highlight common pitfalls or misunderstandings and give students a chance to talk to both you and their peers about their work. This could be via written, audio or video feedback.
Clarification Students may want to speak to the marker to help better understand their feedback. Having open office hours, or other opportunities to speak to the marker, gives students a chance to engage in dialogue about their work.
Other opportunities for feedback There are ways in which you can incorporate more informal opportunities for feedback throughout a unit of learning. Below are just a few examples of ways to do this:
  • In-class quizzes
  • Short non-assessed submissions (e.g. 200-word journal entries in advance of an assessed piece of reflective writing)
  • Class discussions
  • Feedback on progress reports


There is a lot of evidence to suggest that students don’t always understand that feedback has been given unless it is in a written format attached to a submitted piece of work (i.e. ‘formal’ feedback). If feedback is not in this format then you need to make it clear to students that it does constitute feedback.

Image for case study: Image for audio feedback

Case study: How to incorporate audio feedback into the formative marking process

Gareth Bramley from the School of Law has experimented with providing audio feedback to his students, in an effort to increase active engagement with the feedback given.

The response from students has been encouraging, with students commenting that the feedback feels more personal and encouraging. In this blog post, Gareth details his experience and offers some advice for those wanting to try this feedback method.


What you can do

  • Could you try out a new method of giving feedback - for example audio feedback or cohort feedback?
  • Familiarise yourself with the structure of the courses your students are taking. How can you make your feedback useful for the students not just in your module, but over the whole of their journey?
  • Remember to make it clear to students when they are getting feedback, especially if it is not in a written format.


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This video shows the student view on what makes feedback useful for them

This guidance from the Digital Learning Team shows you how to set up ‘QuickMarks’ on Turnitin

This guidance from the Digital Learning Team shows you how to create self-marked tests/quizzes on Blackboard (MOLE)

View guidance from APSE on the Principles of Feedback

Back to Assessment and feedback: Getting started guide

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